A passion for working the land cultivated into reality
Mahlatse Matlakana is a 20-year-old young woman with a passion for green pepper farming.
She describes her love for farming as a "bitter-sweet love story".
At the tender age of 15, Matlakana began working on the farms neighbouring Arrie village in Senwabarwana, Limpopo, during school holidays to support her unemployed mother and two younger siblings.
Five years later, and a few lucky breaks along the way, now leases a eight-hectare farm and produces green peppers for four national food wholesalers.
When she completed her matric in 2016, Matlakana was conflicted between following her passion for farming and pursuing a law degree. "Applying for a law degree seemed like the right thing to do, so I did and was accepted. However, I decided to take a gap year and farm green peppers for fun," she said.
The "fun" resulted in a one-hectare farm filled with ripe green peppers. There was no going back. Matlakana bought more seeds from the income she accumulated and extended her farm by one more hectare.
"I then decided to put my law degree on hold to pursue farming full-time. I registered my company and, with the support of some good Samaritans in my community, I managed to lease a bigger plot at a cheaper rate. And they also allowed me to use their farming equipment at no cost at all," Matlakana said.
She now has an eight-hectare farm and employs four people from her community.
As word spread about the dynamic young farmer, big brands started knocking on her door to offer assistance. Construction engineering company Basil Read donated an irrigation system and a water pump, a donation that has assisted Matlakana to keep her farm nurtured.
She now harvests weekly and distributes her green peppers in the community and to wholesalers such as Boxer stores, Goseame Wholesalers in Polokwane, the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market, as well as a fresh produce market in Musina.
Matlakana will form part of the next group of young entrepreneurs who will receive mentorship through the De Beers Zimele incubation programme. Through the programme, Matlakana will receive skills development training aligned to the farming industry, financial training and mentorship, and personal development skills as a businesswoman.
"I am very confident about the future and I hope one day I'll be able to open a training centre for the youth in my community and teach them about farming."